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Talking bold career switch with Marina Altés

Posted by Marina Altés |

In this article, Marina takes us through her journey and explains how she transitioned from the health sector to the tech industry. 

Can you tell me a bit about your background? 

I have a background in psychology with a specialization in neurosciences and neuropsychology. I was passionate about understanding how the brain functions. During my Ph.D., I focused on exploring nonpharmacological interventions to enhance brain health in adults. Over a decade, I worked in both clinical and research settings, working with diverse patients, performing data analysis, writing scientific papers, and presenting at conferences. My patients ranged from children with neural developmental disorders like autism or child-brain paralysis to adults who had experienced strokes, dementia, or epilepsy. In my work I was part of multidisciplinary teams, performing both diagnosis and neurorehabilitation, and additionally providing emotional support to patients and their families. 

How did you transition to a career in tech? 

In 2021, I made the bold decision to join an intensive 6-month web development boot camp. There, I received a front-end development immersive training, which allowed me to land my first job as a software developer. Later on, in August 2022, I had the opportunity to join Criteo. 

I am curious as to what made you switch careers... 

During the pandemic, like many others, I started reflecting and questioning various aspects of my life. Although my previous job was stimulating and meaningful, it was emotionally challenging to confront the limitations of neurological recovery. In many cases, the potential for significant improvements or even full recovery from such conditions was limited or non-existent, and that had an impact both in the patients’ and their relatives’ mental health. I began exploring a career in tech because I've always been fueled by curiosity and the constant opportunity to learn something new. I have many engineer friends in my social circle who encouraged me to try programming. So, I did and discovered this incredibly exciting field with its never-ending learning journey associated: there are new challenges every day! 

What does a Software Engineer do exactly? 

A software engineer designs and builds the computer programs and systems that we use every day, such as websites, mobile apps, and software applications, making technology work in a way that solves problems and meets users' needs. You can either be specialized in: 

  • Front-end: This involves coding interfaces that users interact with, creating intuitive and user-friendly experiences. 
  • Back-end: In the back end, we focus on the logic behind the applications. We think about the desired user actions and translate them into code. This includes tasks like information storage, application architecture, and product optimization. 

For a curious individual like yourself, you must find what you look for in the tech field right? 

Absolutely! In my previous job, I was continuously pursuing courses and attending conferences to enhance my skills and knowledge. However, the importance of staying up to date wasn't explicitly emphasized or valued. It was more of a personal investment of time and resources. In the tech industry, things are different. Continuous learning is deeply ingrained in the culture. It's not just expected, it's encouraged and supported. There are time and resources for professionals to update their skill sets regularly, and the value placed on ongoing learning is truly appreciated. Of course, there are many other aspects that make this a great field, like some of its methodologies, and the variety of career paths, for instance. 

You pretty much reinvented yourself professionally speaking then. How did it go? 

Transitioning to a completely different field hasn't been easy all the time. There's a significant learning curve involved, and starting from scratch can bring feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and being lost. It's common to experience moments where you need help but hesitate to reach out to colleagues, or where impostor syndrome creeps in. It took me some time to get used to not being as knowledgeable and autonomous, but I'm truly grateful for the rewarding journey it has been so far. 

Do you find it hard sometimes to work in a field with few women? 

Coming from the health field where in university, sometimes in classes of 90 people there were 3 or 4 men, to a field where there’s just one or two females in the team, it’s quite different. However, I have never felt left behind, my colleagues have always been supporting, open, willing to lend a hand. They, along with my managers, show work hard to ensure inclusion and diversity. I can’t speak for the entire tech field, but my personal experience is that under both male and female leadership I’ve found empathy and genuine care towards colleagues and employees. There’s still a long way to go since the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry might impact how women perceive their role in such positions, especially considering the more vocal presence of men in the industry. 

How can we give more visibility to women in tech? 

There’s a global awareness in Criteo that we need to create space for minorities to express themselves, and that applies not only gender-wise but also related to sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability amongst others. The first step is raising awareness, and that's already a significant stride. The company has a strong agenda to addressing issues associated with inclusion at work, and Criteo’s values are a guarantee to make progress in these areas. 

What do you think about the way mental health at work is dealt with at Criteo? 

I've worked in companies that didn't prioritize the mental health of their workers, even though they were in the mental health sector, which is a big contradiction. At Criteo, mental health is taken into account as part of the work culture. From my perspective, we are on the right track. We're actively discussing mental health and developing specific programs to reduce stigma and promote well-being.  

Read: Meet our Mental Health First Aiders

What do you like the most about your job? 

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is the collaborative teamwork that takes place when we come together to brainstorm and discuss the design and implementation of specific features. It's very cool to witness the collective power of diverse minds and creativity at work. In those moments, ideas flow freely, and everyone's unique perspective contributes to the collective learning experience.  

How do you manage to always update your skill set? 

At Criteo, we have a strong R&D culture that emphasizes learning and training. We have the flexibility to dedicate up to 10% of our time to learning, making it easy to fit into our work schedules. We have WATCH topics and experiment Fridays, where you can dig into topics unrelated to the work you usually do within your team. Also, as promoters of multiple tech conferences, we’re have the opportunity to attend talks about recent advances. Additionally, Criteo's annual three-day Hackathon provides a stimulating learning opportunity. 

To conclude, do you have any tips to share with people hesitating to leap and pursue a career in tech? 

You don’t need anything else than Wi-Fi and a computer to try and test how programming feels. There are abundant training resources available, as well as thriving tech communities worldwide. This makes it much simpler to dip your toes and see if it sparks your interest. In tech, we learn by doing. Unlike other fields, you can put yourself in the shoes of a developer before switching careers. 


Marina Altés

Software Development Engineer

The Future is Yours.

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